Parent influence most important factor in teens decisions about sex

Published: Sunday, June 23 2013 3:20 p.m. MDT

They taught their kids early on that every action has either a positive or negative consequence, Jani Driggs said. They talk to their kids about goals and set out the positives of abstaining from sex before marriage and the consequences of not. They then let their kids figure things out from there.

Talking 2 teens features "put it to practice" links where parents can ask themselves open-ended questions regarding their own values and approaches toward talking to their teen about sex. Parents can also take a knowledge pretest to gauge what they know about talking to their child about sex.

Parents matter

The Health Department will continue to monitor rates of teen pregnancy and see ifhe rates are impacted by the website, Ybarra said.

Many parents think they have no influence on their child's decisions about sex, according to Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Programs like this website help parents know that their voice is important, he said, which is a good thing.

"Job number one is convincing parents that they matter. That their sons and daughters want to hear from them even if they don't act like it."

In addition to websites like Talking 2 Teens, parents have a number of community resources they can use to talk to their kids. The federal government has listed effective programs when it comes to delaying teen pregnancy, he said, and most talk about the value of delaying sex and the importance of sex education.

"It's good to know — and I say this as a parent — it's good to know that you matter, and particulary on a topic that you didn't think that you mattered," Albert said.

Unlike talking to teens about things that should never happen, he said, such as doing drugs or driving drunk, most people understand that they will have sexual relationships at some point in their lives.

Some parents may worry that by educating their teenagers about sex they may be giving their "tacit approval" for their child to engage in sex.

"That's a fair question and a reasonable concern," Albert said.

However, he said, research shows that in general children delay sex initiation when their parents talk to their kids about sex, in part because of the closer relationships that develop as part of the openness.

If this conversation was about their child's education or helping them reach their goals, he said, there would be no doubt that parents play a positive role.

"It's somewhat puzzling to ponder why parents sort of lack the belief or courage that they matter on these important topics."

Parents can also converse with other parents about the questions their kids are asking, and use each other to practice what they might say to their kids, according to Cory Fehlberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City. They should also think about what they wish their parents would have told them as teens, she said.

It is OK for parents to admit that they feel uncomfortable, Fehlberg said. They also should plan to be surprised and caught off guard at times. When that happens, she said, they can always come back and continue the conversation, even if it is years later.

"I think that parents should know that they can always come back to kids. That it's not a one-time deal."

It's never too late to start talking to your kids about sex, the Driggs said, and it is important to create a comfortable environment for children so they feel like they can share and ask questions.

"Just talk. Don't worry about saying something wrong," Jonathan Driggs said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

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